Sunday, October 20, 2019

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity - Deut 10:12-21

                                                                                                Trinity 18
                                                                                                Deut 10:12-21

            The history had produced a sense of inevitability.  No one living had ever seen any other result.  And so for many people there was no reason to expect any other outcome.
            More than a hundred baseball seasons began and ended with the same result: the Chicago Cubs did not win the World Series.  Seven times in a row the Cubs lost in the World Series. Since the last loss in 1945, the Cubs had rarely been in the playoffs and had never been back to the World Series.  The few times when they had success were marred by memorable collapses: the 1969 team that failed to make the playoffs; the 1984 and 2003 teams that failed to make the World Series.
            In the discussion that leads into our text, Moses has been describing a similar history of failure punctuated by epic acts of disobedience. In the previous chapter he said, “Remember and do not forget how you provoked the LORD your God to wrath in the wilderness. From the day you came out of the land of Egypt until you came to this place, you have been rebellious against the LORD.”  There was a long history of Israel failing to trust in Yahweh and disobeying him.
            At the very beginning, when they arrived at the Red Sea and saw that the Egyptians were pursuing them they said, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’”
            Their repeated grumbling, complaining and doubting had been capped off by two huge acts of disobedience.  At Mt Sinai they had made and worshipped a golden calf instead of Yahweh.  And then when Yahweh brought them to the land of Canaan and told them to go in and take possession of the land, they did not believe God and refused. Moses was able to summarize their history this way: “You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you.”
            But now, after forty years of wandering in the wilderness, they were about to enter the promised land.  In a series of sermon like addresses, Moses was urging Israel to be faithful to Yahweh, to trust him, and to obey him.  He begins our text by saying, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” 
            Moses called Israel to fear and love God.  He urged them to walk in his ways and to keep the Torah that Yahweh had given to them as his covenant people.  This relationship – this covenant God had made Israel – had not been caused by anything Israel had done.  Instead in our text Moses says, “Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.” 
            The whole creation belongs to God, yet in his grace he had called Abraham, and reaffirmed his promises to Isaac and Jacob.  God’s saving action for Israel was grounded in the promise he had made to the patriarchs. As Moses had said earlier, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”
            Despite God’s love, Israel’s track record was one of disobedience.  And so in our text Moses urges Israel: “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.  For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” Moses called Israel to repentance and faithfulness. The reason was very simple.  God is the awesome judge who shows no partiality and judges justly.  And Yahweh had warned Israel that continued disobedience would bring his judgment.
            It would be great if I could tell you that Israel finally broke out of her history.  I wish I could say that like the Chicago Cubs in 2016 they shook off their past and did the unexpected. Yet that’s not how things turned out. They entered the promised land where they worshipped other gods and did not walk in God’s ways. The result, as God warned them in Deuteronomy, was God’s judgment of exile from the land he had given to them.
            I also wish I could say that we are all that different from Israel.  In the opening verse of our text we hear echoes of the Small Catechism’s explanation of the First Commandment: we are to fear, love and trust in God above all things.  Like Israel we have our false gods.  They are not Asherah poles or golden calves, but instead the money that gives us a sense of security and value; the possessions that we just can’t be without; the sports that occupy so much of our time and attention.
            God had told Pharaoh, “Israel is my firstborn son.”  Yet because Israel was an unfaithful son, God sent his own Son into the world to fulfill what Israel was meant to be.  In our text Moses says that “the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers.”  When God first set his love on Abraham and called him, he promised, “and in you all families of the earth will be blessed.”
            Unlike Israel, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, walked in all God’s ways, loved and served God with all his heart soul, and kept the commandments and statutes.  He did this for Israel.  And he also did it for you.  At his baptism Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit as he took on the role of the suffering Servant.  He took the sins of Israel upon himself. He took your sins upon himself.  And then he walked in the way of the Lord that led to the cross on Good Friday. 
            As Moses says in our text, “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.” He is the impartial and just God who condemned your sin in Christ. As St Paul wrote, “For our sake he made who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  In obedience to the Father, our Lord Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath against our sins.  Though without sin of his own, Jesus received the wages of our sin as he died on the cross and was buried in a tomb.
            Jesus loved, trusted and obeyed the Father all the way to death and the tomb.  But he did so knowing that God’s Spirit had promised through David in Psalm 16 about the Messiah: “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.”  On the third day God’s Spirit raised Jesus from the dead as he won victory over death.  Now the risen and ascended Lord has given us the Spirit as we received the washing of regeneration and renewal in Holy Baptism.
            It is the Spirit of Christ who now leads us to fear and love God as we serve him and walk in his ways.  Though no longer bound by the specific commandments and statutes of the Torah given to Israel, we still find that the things God commands us in his Word are for our good.  They describe how God has ordered his creation and so they are always best for us.  They bring blessings as we walk in the way of the Lord.
            God’s saving action for you in Christ is the ultimate demonstration of his loving character.  It is a reflection of who God has always been.  In our text Moses says, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” God is the One who loves and cares for the helpless.  That’s why he sent his Son to suffer and die for you.  That’s why he raised Christ from the dead. That is why he has called you to faith through his Spirit.
            And because we have received this love, it is now something we share with others.  Moses goes on to add in our text, “Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”  We are called to help others, because God has helped us.  We are called to serve others, because Christ served us. We are called to love others because God loved us.  The love that God has given us in Christ cannot stop with us.  It can never end there.  Instead it sets us in motion to help and assist those around us.  By his Spirit, Christ leads us to support and encourage those in need. We do this wherever Christ places us in the various callings in life – our vocations. You don’t have to look for people who need help. God has placed them right there around you where you are in your family, your church, your job and your school.
            At the end our text Moses says, “You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.  He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.”  Like Israel, we are called to fear the Lord and serve him.  And we are to hold fast to him. 
            We hold fast to God by clinging to his Means of Grace.  We return daily to our baptism, as we believe God’s promises about what he has done for us through water and the Word. There we were buried with Christ and clothed with Christ.  We receive Holy Absolution as the risen Lord speaks forgiveness here and now through his called servant.  We receive the Sacrament of the Altar in which Jesus gives us his true body and blood, given and shed for us.  We receive his Word both in its reading and preaching in the Divine Service, and in our own reading of Scripture at home.
            We cling to God in these ways by which he comes to us. And then we respond in the life of prayer that turns to God in every need. We pray for others in their difficulties. We give thanks for every blessing.  We do all of this because of the great and awesome things that God has done for us in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.



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